ThingCharger Eliminates Cable Clutter

ThingChargerDevice chargers are the bane of modern life with a complete rat’s nest of cables and connectors behind the average desk. Todd chats to Seymour Segnit from ThingCharger about their Indiegogo campaign for a cord-free charger.

The ThingCharger plugs directly into a power socket, with the device’s charging connector on the top of the unit, and pass-thru power outlets meaning that you don’t lose the socket but even more cunningly, you can stack the ThingCharger to charge multiple devices at the same time.

A range of interchangeable charging connectors – Apple 30-pin, Micro-USB, Mini-USB, Apple Lightning – will be available so that different devices can be charged from the same charger and cleverly, the connectors can be stored in the ThingCharger so they’re much harder to lose. It’s brilliant all round, so much so that ThingCharger raised nearly $650,000 against a £25,000 target.

ThingCharger is expected to be available in Q3 of 2014 and you can pre-order now for $29.95.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Gigabit Powerline from Trendnet at CES

TRENDnet LogoNetworking over electrical power lines has come a long way since the first HomePlug specification back in 2008 which was was rated at 14 Mb/s. Today network specialists Trendnet have announced a gigabit class, Powerline 1000, with the launch of the TPL-420E2K adaptors.

Trendnet Powerline 1000Based on the HomePlug AV2 standard and using MIMO techniques originally used in wireless data transmission, Powerline 1000 doubles the speed of the previous implementation.

Zak Wood, director of global marketing of Trendnet said, “Trendnet’s TPL-420E2K is designed to easily handle multi-HD streams in a busy connected home.

For the first time, Powerline products use all three electrical wires: the live, neutral, and ground (earth) wires. MIMO technology sends information over the fastest two out of the three available electrical wires. If a user lives in an old home which is not cabled with ground wires, the maximum throughput is reduced from 1,000 to 600 Mb/s.

The TPL-420E2K connects over electrical lines for distances of up to 300 m (a little less than 1000 ft), which is roughly the size of 5,000 square foot home. Powerline 1000 is compatible with existing Powerline 500, 200 and HomePlug AV rated products but when connected to a lower speed adapter, speeds are reduced to the lower rated adapter.

As you’d expected, the communication between the adapters is encrypted and to reduce energy consumption, the TPL-420E2K units go into standby mode when not in use.

The MSRP is US$169 but the Powerline 1000 units are not expected until June 2014. I’m looking forward to testing these already, especially if Trendnet produces an adaptor which incorporates a fast wireless access point.

Practical Meter for USB Charging

Practical MeterWith the plethora of USB charging power sources and charging rates, it was probably inevitable that someone would develop a meter to measure the power going to a device. The bragging rights go to Utah-based Power Practical and the Practical Meter, a USB in-line power meter. Looking much like a USB dongle, 5 LEDs show the power transfer from 1 W up to 10 W.

Originally a Kickstarter campaign that met its funding back in the July raising nearly $170,000, the Practical Meter has been today recognised as International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree.  “Just last week we shipped out the 10,000 pre-order units we received during our Kickstarter campaign to have the Practical Meter come to market,” says Matt Ford, CEO of Power Practical. “It’s crazy that a week later we’re being honored by something as prestigious as the CES Innovations awards.

As a pure USB device, it will work with anything that charges via USB such as smartphones, mp3 players or battery packs. Practical Meter is available now for $24.99 online and includes a 3-in-1 fast charge cable with mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple connectors.

Practical Meter Charging

Making Solar Pay

I have always been fascinated by the idea of generating my own electric power. Back in late 1998 I installed a solar power system that has sixteen 75 watt solar panels, along with a 4,000 watt power inverter/charger and a bank of expensive deep-cycle batteries.  Mention solar power, and most people think that all of these elements are necessary, including the expensive bank of batteries.

It turns out there is a much better way to think of home solar energy – use solar energy equipment strictly to push power back into the electric company utility grid. Batteries should never be considered to be part of a solar installation unless utility power just isn’t available, say in a remote location. Battery technology is an albatross when it comes to being able to store enough power to meet real-world needs.

If electric grid power is available, there are only two elements necessary – the arrays of solar panels, and what are called grid-tie inverters. In this battery-free scenario, the math of pushing power back to the utility to offset electrical use becomes much more interesting.

Power companies in the United States are required by law to “buy back” consumer-generated power. A grid-tie inverter takes the DC power being generated by the solar panels, inverts it into AC power, and then sends it back directly into the grid via a standard AC power plug plugged in to a regular 110 volt outlet. It is possible to have more than one grid-tie inverters, which also come in different sizes.

The relatively high-end inverter that I have is capable of producing 4,000 watts sustained output. So, if I wanted to push 4,000 watts back into the electric company utility grid, I would need at least two more arrays of solar panels feeding DC current into the inverter.

In my case, the batteries died within about the first three to four years. I simply turned the equipment off and my youngest brother sold the battery carcasses to a battery recycler. The equipment sat dormant until yesterday. A friend that does solar as a hobby helped me check the inverter and get it up and running again. I contacted my electric company and they sent a man out this afternoon to look over and approve my system, an absolutely necessary step. So the net effect is that now whenever there is daylight, the inverter is pushing power back into the grid. Obviously the maximum amount of power is generated when the solar panels are in direct sunlight.

The electric company performed a test of the inverter to make sure that if there is a grid power failure that the inverter automatically cuts off its own output. This is quite critical to the power company, because they want to be absolutely certain that in case of a grid power failure, no user-generated AC current is being fed back into the downed power lines.

I was able to verify that my inverter was pushing power back into the grid by turning off all internal breakers in my house so that no power was being used. At that point I looked at the power meter out on the utility pole and it was actually running backwards! Of course, in normal operation with different things consuming electricity in the house it is unlikely it will run backwards much, but it will be slowed somewhat.

My local electric company is a rural electric cooperative and they actually encourage customers to set up these types of “selling” consumer-generating power systems. It helps them reduce peak demand, thus reducing the need for more electrical generating capacity on the utility’s side. Solar panels are generating electricity at peak capacity when peak demand is likely to occur when air conditioning demands are at their highest.

Can a system like this ever pay for itself? It depends on the initial cost of the equipment, installation expenses, and how long of a payback period you are able to live with. If you can do most of the installation work yourself, then obviously the math works better. Eliminating the batteries really helps the cost come down.

An HQRP 1,000 watt grid-tie inverter sells for $287.95 on Amazon.Com. Aleko brand 75-watt solar panels sell for  $149 dollars each. Sixteen of these solar panels multiplies out to $2,384 dollars. With brackets, wiring and installation let’s estimate a total package price of $4,000, which may or may not be wildly off one way or the other. The 1,000 watt electrical output of the inverter would have to offset $4,000 dollars worth of electricity over a period of years before it would pay for itself, which is likely a long period of years. If the price of the equipment and installation can be brought down, then the payback period shortens.

My electric company will only allow this type of setup to function as an offset. So, let’s say that someone was putting more power back into the grid than they were actually consuming. My power company will never issue a check for the power, so it’s really just an offset for how much I consume. With enough equipment feeding power back into the grid, it would be possible to bring electrical grid usage down to zero.

Many local and state governments offer tax rebates for new solar equipment installations, which could also help mitigate the cost.

The beauty of a battery-free grid-tie solar user-generated power system feeding into the electrical grid is that once it is initially set up, everything happens automatically. Since I already have the equipment and it is long since paid for, I might as well be utilizing it to offset a portion of my power usage.

IDAPT i1 Eco Universal Charger Review

The Idapt i1 Eco is the portable member of Idapt’s family of universal chargers: by using the same interchangeable tips as the dual and triple versions, the usefulness of the system is extended from the home to the car and travel.

Idapt i1 Eco Universal Charger

If you aren’t familiar with Idapt, their system offers a wide selection of charging tips that are snapped into a charging station which has anything from one (i1 Eco) to three (i4) changeable charging points. The benefit is that the charging station can be uniquely customised to your mobile device usage. For example, your phone might have a micro-USB connector, your iPod has an Apple connector and your Nintendo DSi has its own connector. By using the relevant tips, all three devices can be charged at once. Geek News Central reviewed the Idapt i4 earlier in the year.

Within this context, let’s take a look at the i1 Eco. Out of the box, you get a the i1 unit itself, a mains power connector, a USB power connector, a car USB adaptor and three charging tips – mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple.

Idapt Charging Tips

The main unit takes only one of these at a time, but there’s an additional full-size USB port on the side, so two devices can be charged simultaneously.

The i1 Eco can be powered either from the mains or from a USB power source: the cables interchange at the lime green coloured multi-connector. As you can see from the picture below, these are standard connector types, namely micro-USB and IEC “shotgun”.

The power transformer is incorporated into the body of the Eco 1 so there’s no “wall wart”, only an ordinary plug on the end of the cable. The advantage of this will become clear shortly and when buying the i1 Eco, UK, USA or Euro mains plugs can be specified.

Power cable

At the other end of the Eco 1 is the socket for the charging tips. These pop in and out and are exactly the same as the ones used in the tabletop models, which is handy if you have invested in a range of tips.

Tip Socket Tip Inserted

The USB socket on the side is used to charge a second device via a cable, which is best used for tablets or other larger devices which can be unwieldy to connect on the end of the i1 Eco.

i1 Side Shot

As might be guessed from the name, it’s intended to be a green charger. The packaging is all recycled cardboard and the body of the i1 Eco is made from recycled plastic. Even more unusual is the presence of a power button on the side of the i1 Eco, which is there to help save energy.

Most consumer electronics chargers don’t have an on-off switch and most gang extension sockets don’t have on-off switches either, which means that to fully turn off a charger, it has to be pulled out of the socket, which is pretty inconvenient and most of us don’t bother. The chargers continue to consume power even when there’s no device being charged and this power is completely wasted.

The i1 Eco eliminates this problem by having an on-off switch and by automatically powering off when the recharging gadgets are fully charged. This is a great feature and as a result, no power is wasted when gadgets are connected but fully charged and the Eco 1 can be safely plugged in all the time.

Overall, it’s all very clever, useful and green to boot!

Are there any downsides? There are a couple but nothing too serious. First of all, the USB car adaptor that goes in the cigarette lighter socket is a bit flimsy and lets the overall package down. For comparison, the Griffin PowerJolt is a far better adaptor.

Secondly, the auto-power off feature is sometimes a bit over-enthusiastic. On occasion I’d connect up my tablet (Motorola Xoom 2 ME) to charge and I’d come back later to find that the i1 Eco had switched off while the tablet was still only part charged. Other times it worked perfectly with the tablet and I had no problems with other devices (Bluetooth headset, mp3 player, ereader). To be fair, the included literature does mention that some smartphones can be incompatible with this feature so I guess this includes tablets too.

Update: Idapt contacted me to say that with troublesome devices, simply hold the on-off button down for about a second when turning the charger on and this reduces the auto-off sensitivity. I carried out some further testing of the i1 Eco with the tablet and can confirm that this solution works so problem solved. Thanks, Idapt.

The i1 Eco is a clever and flexible portable charging solution that will particularly appeal to those who have already bought into the Idapt way and have a full set of charging tips.

The i1 Eco is available from Idapt for £19.99 and extra tips are mostly £5.95.

Thanks to Idapt for providing the i1 Eco for review.

Verbatim Demos LED Bulbs at The Gadget Show

Verbatim LED LightsVerbatim are best known for their data storage products and I can remember having piles of Verbatim floppy disks back in the day, as it were. Younger readers will know the company for blank DVDs, memory cards and USB memory sticks but Verbatim have recently launched an LED lighting business.

Offering direct plug-in replacements, the goal is to encourage consumers to replace existing incandescent lights with LED-based equivalents. The power savings can be considerable with 60 W bulbs being replaced by LEDs closer to 10 W in power.

Verbatim LED Lighting Demo

At The Gadget Show Live, Ian tells me more about Verbatim’s LED lighting products and why we should all switch over.

Green Plug Brings Control to AC-DC Conversion

Green Plug LogoAs energy prices rise and green credentials come under scrutiny, each step in the energy path is being examined for inefficiency. Andy and Courtney listen to Paul Panepinto from Green Plug on their technology.

Green Plug have developed a digital controller to optimise the conversion of electricity between AC and DC. For the non-engineers, AC (alternative current)  is what is in your wall socket and DC (direct current) is what most of your gadgets use. All those power bricks and wall warts are transformers combined with AC to DC converters to change 110 V AC to 12V / 5V DC.

Green Plug has pioneered the use of intercommunicating digital power and load processors to optimise the AC-to-DC power conversion and increase efficiency. It’s an area that has been typically overlooked in power management but Green Plug has reduced the implementation cost to make the inclusion of the technology cost-effective. Over the next few years, it’s likely that this technology will start to appear laptop and phone chargers, so keep an eye out for it.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Allure Energy Intelligent Thermostat with Proximity Control

Allure Energy graphicAllure Energy introduced their latest energy management product, EverSense, at CES 2012. Andy learns how to save money on your electricity bill from Kevin, Allure Energy.

Allure Energy’s EverSense, a thermostat replacement technology, is based around a tablet device that can make intelligent energy decisions on your behalf. The proximity control feature raises or lowers the temperature in your based on how far away you are from your home. By using a GPS app on your iPhone (or Android smartphone) that sends back your location, EverSense knows where you and if you are coming home, it adjusts the temperature to your preferences. Cool.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Nest Learning Thermostat at CES

Nest Smart ThermostatThe nest thermostat has received more than its fair share of press coverage recently, but that’s because it’s both smart, cool and well-designed. Todd chats with Kate from nest about this great new product.

The nest thermostat is a smart thermostat that learns from your habits and behaviours and adjusts itself to match them, turning the heat up when you want it and down when you are out of the home. It’s exceptionally easy to use – you turn it up, you turn it down, that’s it. The nest has several learning modes, including schedule learning and activity detection, which help it keep you comfortable but the energy costs down.

The nest thermostat costs $249 but it’s on back order because it’s been so popular. The thermostat comes with everything you need to install the devices yourself, including a screwdriver!

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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GreenWave Reality Smart Home Services

GreenWave Reality LogoTodd interviews Greg Memo from GreenWave Reality, a global innovator in the emerging smart home services market including home monitoring and elderly care. On show is their home energy management solution that uses wireless (ZigBee) plug-in devices to monitor and control power consumption.

The system is not just limited to power management as other remote monitoring and control technologies such as lighting and video can be included. The complementary iPad app allows the homeowner to select individual rooms within the property and make adjustments if necessary – for example, a thermostat could be turned down or the timings changed to alter when the heat comes on.

The overall solution won a CES 2012 Innovations Award so congratulations to GreenWave. Available now, starting from $200.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast network.

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